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Part 1: Charles of Orleans, Francois Villon and Clément Marot

Hilaire Belloc
Hilaire Belloc 1875 - 1953

Avril - or Essays on the Poetry of the French Renaissance
by Hilaire Belloc

Part 2: Pierre de Ronsard, Joachim du Bellay and François de Malherbe

in preparation

Containing some of the finest French poetry and some of the finest English prose, this book has long been my choice for Desert Island Discs.

Belloc, who wrote the most beautiful English love sonnets of the 20th Century, through his love of French poetry, attempts to increase mutual appreciation between the French and English.

Pierre de Ronsard 1524 - 1585

Pierre de Ronsard
Pierre de Ronsard
Prince of Poets

He was born into a noble family of the Vendomois and early in his life entered the French court as a page. In 1537 he visited Scotland in the retinue of James V`s two successive French queens and stayed there until 1539. When a serious illness left Ronsard partially deaf, he was forced to abandon his plans for a military career and, temporarily withdrawing from court life, he went to study for a number of years under the humanist scholar Jean Dorat at the College de Coqueret.

In 1550 Ronsard published his Odes, which gave France its ftrst major works in the Pindaric style, and Les Amour: (1552), a sequence of love poems addressed to 'Cassandre`. These works gained for him a great following and the patronage and support of King Charles IX and the royal family, as well as the admiration of Mary Stuart, who sent him a gift from prison.

Mary Stuart
Mary Stuart

If it be true that words create for themselves a special atmosphere, and that their mere sound calls up vague outer things beyond their strict meaning, so it is true that the names of the great poets by their mere sound, by something more than the recollection of their work, produce an atmosphere corresponding to the quality of each; and the name of Ronsard throws about itself like an aureole the characters of fecundity, of leadership, and of fame.

A group of men, to which allusion will be made in connection with Du Bellay, set out with a programme, developed a determined school, and fixed the literary renaissance of France at its highest point. They steeped themselves in antiquity, and they put to the greatest value it has ever received the name of poet; they demanded that the poet should be a kind of king, or seer. Half seriously, half as a product of mere scholarship, the pagan conception of the muse and of inspiration filled them.

More than that; in their earnest, and, as it seemed at first, artificial work, they formed the French language.

Let us begin with a poem that links two great names:

Francois Rabelais

Seven years after Rabelais died, Ronsard wrote this off-hand. The man who wrote it had seen that large and honorable mouth worshipping wine: he had reverenced that head of laughter which has corrected all our philosophy. It would be a shame to pass such a name as Ronsard's signed to an epitaph on such a work as that of Rabelais, poetry or no poetry. Ronsard also from a tower at Meudon used to creep out at night and drink with that fellow-priest, vicar of the Parish, Rabelais: a greater man than he. By a memory separate from the rest of his verse, Ronsard was moved to write this Rabelaisian thing. For he had seen him "full length upon the grass and singing so." There is no need of notes, for these great names of Gargantua, Panurge and Friar John are household to every honest man.


Si d'un mort qui pourri repose
Nature engendre quelque chose,
Et si la generation
Se fait de la corruption,
Une vigne prendra naissance
De l'estomac et de la pance
Du bon Rabelais, qui boivoit
Tousjours ce pendant qu'il vivoit.

Demi nus se troussoit les bras,
Et se couchoit tout plat à bas
Sur la jonchée, entre les tasses :
Et parmi des escuelles grasses

Il chantoit la grande massue,
Et la jument de Gargantue,
Son fils Panurge, et le pais
Des Papimanes ébais.
Et chantoit les Iles Hieres
Et frere Jean des Antonnieres,
Et d'Episteme les combas :
Mais la mort qui ne boivoit pas
Tira le beuveur de ce monde,
Et ores le fait boire en l'onde
Qui fuit trouble dans le giron
Du large fleuve d'Acheron.  

This epitaph was suppressed in 1578.
Prose translation by Malcolm Quainton and Elizabeth Vinestock:

Francois Rabelais

If nature engenders something from a dead man, who lies rotting, and if generation comes from corruption, a vine will be born from the stomach and belly of our worthy Rabelais, who drank constantly while he was alive. He rolled up his sleeves, leaving his arms half bare, and lay spread-eagled on the rush-strewn floor amid the drinking vessels. He sang of the great club and the mare of Gargantua, of great Panurge, and the land of the credulous Papimanes. He sang of the Iles d'Hyeres and of Brother John of Antonnnieres, and of Epistemon's battles. But Death, who was not a drinker, hauled the drinker out of this world, and now makes him drink from the water that flows murkily into the bosom of the wide river Acheron.

Next we have the most famous sonnet for Helene de Surgeres.

Helene de Surgeres
Helene de Surgeres

Helene was very real. A young Maid of Honour to Catherine de Medicis; Spanish by blood, Italian by breeding, called in France "de Sugeres," she was the gravest and the wisest, and, for those who loved serenity, the most beautiful of that high and brilliant school. The Sonnets began as a task; a task the Queen had set Ronsard, with Helene for theme: they ended in the last strong love of Ronsard's life. A sincere lover of many women, he had come to the turn of his age when he saw her, like a memory of his own youth. He has permitted to run through this series, therefore, something of the unique illusion which distance in time or space can lend to the aspect of beauty. An emotion so tenuous does not appear in any other part of his work: here alone you find the chastity or weakness which made something in his mind come near to the sadder du Bellay.

These "Sonnets for Helene" should be common knowledge: they are (with Du Bellay's) the evident original upon which the author of Shakespeare's Sonnets modelled his work: they are the late and careful effort of Ronsard's somewhat spendthrift genius.

Quand vous serez bien vieille, au soir, à la chandelle,
Assise auprès du feu, dévidant et filant,
Direz, chantant mes vers, en vous émerveillant :
Ronsard me célébrait du temps que j'étais belle.

Lors, vous n'aurez servante oyant telle nouvelle,
Déjà sous le labeur à demi sommeillant,
Qui au bruit de mon nom ne s'aille réveillant,
Bénissant votre nom de louange immortelle.

Je serai sous la terre et fantome sans os :
Par les ombres myrteux je prendrai mon repos :
Vous serez au foyer une vieille accroupie,

Regrettant mon amour et votre fier dédain.
Vivez, si m'en croyez, n'attendez à demain :
Cueillez dés aujourd'hui les roses de la vie.

The Irish poet, William Butler Yeats was inpired by this sonnet to write one of his most beautiful poems:

William Butler Yeats
William Butler Yeats
When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And, nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep.

How many loved your moments of glad grace
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face.

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountain overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.
Le Chateau de la Possonniere
Le Chateau de la Possonniere, where Ronsard was born

In the November of 1585 Ronsard felt death upon him; he had himself borne to his home as soon as some Huguenot bands had left it. He found it burnt and looted, but it reminded him of childhood and of the first springs of his great river of verse. A profound sadness took him. He was but in his sixty-second year, his mind had not felt any chill of age. He could not sleep; poppies and soporifics failed him. He went now in his coach, now on a litter froom place to place in that country side which he had rendered famous, and saw the Vendomois for the last time; its comfields all stubble under a cold and dreary sky. And in each place he waited for a while.

The Priory of St Cosmos
The Priory of St Cosmos, where Ronsard died

But death troubled him, and he could not remain. Within a fortnight he ordered that they should carry him southward to the Loire, to that priory of which - by a custom of privilege, nobility and royal favour - he was the nominal head, the priory which is "the eye and delight of Touraine",- the Isle of St. Cosmo. He sickened as he went. The thirty miles or so took him three painful days; twice, all his strength failed him, and he lay half fainting in his carriage; to so much energy and to so much power of creation these episodes were an awful introduction of death.

It was upon the 17th of November that he reached the walls wherein he was Superior; six weeks later, on the second day after Christmas, he died.

Were I to describe that scene to which he called the monks, all men of his own birth and training, were I to dwell upon the appearance and the character of the oldest and the wisest, who was also the most famous there, I should extend this essay beyond its true limit, as I should also do were I to write down, even briefly, the account of his just, resigned, and holy death. It must suffice that I transcribe the chief of his last deeds; I mean, that declaration wherein he made his last profession of faith.

The old monk had said to him: "In what resolution do you die?" He answered, somewhat angrily:

"In what did you think? In the religion which was my father's and his father's, and his father's and his father's before him - for I am of that kind."

Then he called all the community round him, as though the monastic simplicity had returned (so vital is the Faith, so simple its primal energies), and as though he had been the true prior of some early and fervent house, he told them these things which I will faithfully translate on account of their beauty. They are printed here, I think, for the first time in English, and must stand for the end of this essay: He said:

I have sinned like other men, and, perhaps, more than most; my senses have led me away by their charm, and I have not repressed or constrained them as I should; but none the less, I have always held that Faith which the men of my line have left me, I have always clasped close the Creed and the unity of the Catholic Church; in fine, I have laid a sure foundation, but I have built thereon with wood, with hay, with straw. As for that foundation, I was sure it would stand; as for the light and worthless things I have built upon it I have trust in the mercy of the Saviour that they would be burnt in the fire of His love.

And now I beg you all to believe hard, as I have believed; but not to live as I have lived; you must understand that I have never attempted or plotted against the life or goods of another, nor ever against any man's honour, but, after all, there was nothing therein wherewith to glorify one's self before God.

When he had wept a little, he continued, saying:

The Priory of St Cosmos
The Priory of St Cosmos, where Ronsard died

The world is a ceaseless turmoil and torment, and shipwreck after shipwreck all the while, and a whirlpool of sins, and tears and pain, and that to all these misfortunes there is but one port, and this port is Death. But, as for me, I carry with me into that port no desire and no regret for life. I have tried every one of its pretended joys, I have left nothing undone which could give me the least shadow of pleasure or content, but at the end I have found everywhere the oracle of Wisdom, vanity of vanities.

He ended with this magnificent thing, which is, perhaps, the last his human power conceived:-

Of all those vanities, the loveliest and most praiseworthy is glory -- fame. No one of my time has been so filled with it as I; I have lived in it, and loved and triumphed in it through time past, and now I leave it to my country to garner and possess it after I shall die. So do I go away from my own place as satiated with the glory of this world as I am hungry and all longing for that of God

Joachim du Bellay 1522- 1560

Joachim du Bellay
Joachim du Bellay

He was born at the Chateau of La Turmeliere, near Angers, being the son of Jean du Bellay, Lord of Gonnor, first cousin of the cardinal Jean du Bellay.

Of this district, Du Bellay was more than a native; he was part of it; he pined away from it; he regretted, as no other man of the time regretted, his father's land: Anjou and the fields of home. He may be said, with some exaggeration, to have died in the misfortune of his separation from the security and sober tradition of his own walls.

Both his parents died while he was still a child, and he was left to the guardianship of his elder brother, Rene du Bellay, who neglected his education, leaving him to run wild.

In a spirit which all Englishmen will understand, a lightness almost sardonic lay above the depths of his grief and the tenderness which attached to his home played around the things that go with quietude -- his books and animals.

It was a character in this sad man to make little, humble, grotesque, pleasing images of grief; as it were, little idols of his goddess; and he fashioned them with an exquisite humour and affection. What animal of the sixteenth century lives so clearly as this animal?
None, I think, except some few in the pictures of the painters of the low countries.


Dessous ceste motte verte	
De lis et roses couverte	
Gist le petit Peloton	
De qui le poil foleton	
Frisoit d'une toyson blanche	
Le doz, le ventre, et la hanche.	
la Turmeliere
Vieux chateau de la Turmeliere
Son exercice ordinaire Estoit de japper et braire, Courir en hault et en bas, Et faire cent mille esbas, Tous estranges et farouches, Et n'avoit guerre qu'aux mousches, Qui luy faisoient maint torment. Mais Peloton dextrement Leur rendoit bien la pareille : Car se couchant sur l'oreille, Finement il aguignoit Quand quelqu'une le poingnoit : Lors d'une habile soupplesse Happant la mouche traistresse, La serroit bien fort dedans, Faisant accorder ses dens Peloton ne caressoit Sinon ceulx qu'il cognoissoit, Et n'eust pas voulu repaistre D'autre main que de son maistre, Qu'il alloit tousjours suyvant : Quelquefois marchoit devant, Faisant ne scay quelle feste D'un gay branlement de teste. Mon-dieu, quel plaisir c'estoit Quand Peloton se grattoit, Faisant tinter sa sonnette Avec sa teste folette ! Quel plaisir, quand Peloton Cheminoit sur un baston, Ou coife d'un petit linge, Assis comme un petit singe, Se tenoit mignardelet D'un maintien damoiselet ! Las, mais ce doulx passetemps Ne nous dura pas longtemps : Car la mort ayant envie Sur l'ayse de nostre vie, Envoya devers Pluton Nostre petit Peloton, Qui maintenant se pourmeine Parmi ceste umbreuse plaine, Dont nul ne revient vers nous.

Through his cousin, the Cardinal du Bellay, he came at 23 to study law at Poitiers.

It was probably in 1547 that du he met Ronsard in an inn near Poitiers, an event which may be regarded as the starting-point of French Renaissance poetry. The two became fast friends.

That great early experience of his came to him not far from his own hill, south of the great river. His name, unlike Ronsard's, recalled the gentry of that countryside up to and beyond the beginning of its history; alone of the Pleiade he translated the valley of the Loire, its depth, its delicacy, its rich and subtle loneliness.

Du Bellay returned with Ronsard to Paris to join the circle of students of the humanities attached to Jean Dorat at the College de Coqueret.

In 1553 he went to Rome as one of the secretaries of Cardinal du Bellay. During his four and a half years' residence in Italy he wrote forty-seven sonnets of his Antiquites de Rome, which were rendered into English by Edmund Spenser.

Of the high series which Rome called forth from Du Bellay during that bitter diplomatic exile of his, I have chosen these three sonnets, because they seem best to express the majesty and gloom that haunted him.

la Turmeliere
Paul de Cock (1724-1801)
Landscape with
Roman Ruins
Nouveau venu qui cherches Rome en Rome, Et rien de Rome en Rome n'appercois, Ces vieux palais, ces vieux arcz que tu vois Et ces vieux Murs, c'est ce que Rome on nomme Voy quel orgueil, quelle ruine, et comme Celle que mist le monde sous ses loix Pour donter tout, se donta quelquefois, Et devint proye au temps, qui tout consomme. Rome de Rome est le seul monument, Et Rome Rome a vaincu seulement. Le Tybre seul, qui vers la mer s'enfuit, Reste de Rome. 0 mondaine ineonstance! Ce qui est ferme, est par le temps destruit, Et se qui fuit, au temps fait resistance.

from The Ruins of Rome, Edmund Spenser's tranlation of 1591:

Thou Stranger, which for Rome in Rome here seekest, 
And nought of Rome in Rome perceiv'st at all,
These same old Walls, old Arches, which thou seest,
Old Palaces, is that which Rome Men call.
Behold what Wreck, what Ruine, and what Waste,
And how that she, which with her mighty Powre
Tam'd all the World, hath tam'd her self at last,
The Prey of Time, which all things doth devoure.
Rome now of Rome is th' only Funerall,
And only Rome, of Rome hath Victory;
Ne ought save Tyber, hastening to his Fall,
Remains of all: O World's Inconstancy!
That which is firm, doth flit and fall away;
And that is flitting, doth abide and stay.
Edmund Spenser
Edmund Spenser
Celle qui de son chef les estoilles passoit, Et d'un pied sur Thetis, l'autre dessous l'Aurore D'une main sur le Scythe, et l'autre sur le More, De la terre, et du Ciel, la rondeur compassoit, Juppiter ayant peur, si plus elle croissoit Que l'orgueil des Geans se relevast encore, L'accabla sous ces monts, ces sept monts qui font ore Tumbeaux de la grandeur qui le ciel menassoit. Il luy meist sur le chef la croppe Saturnale Puis dessus l'estomac assist le quirinale Sur le ventre il planta l'antique Palatin, Mist sur la dextre main la hauteur Celienne, Sur la senestre assist l'eschine Exquilienne Viminal sur un pied: sur l'autre L'Aventin.
She, whose high Top above the Stars did sore,
One Foot on Thetis, th' other on the Morning,
One Hand on Scythia, th' other on the More,
Both Heaven and Earth in roundness compassing;
Jove fearing, lest if she should greater grow,
The Giants old should once again uprise,
Her whelm'd with Hills, these seven Hills, which be now
Tombs of her Greatness, which did threat the Skies;
Upon her Head he heaps Mount Saturnal,
Upon her Belly th' Antique Palatine,
Upon her Stomack laid Mount Quirinal,
On her left Hand the noysome Esquiline,
And Caelian on the right: but both her Feet,
Mount Viminal and Aventine do meet.

It is difficult to choose in a chain of cadences so equal and so exalted, but perhaps the last, "Telle que dans son char la Berecynthienne" is the most marvellous. The vision alone of Rome like the mother of the Gods in her car would have made the sonnet immortal. He adds to the mere picture a noise of words that is like thunder in the hills far off on summer afternoons: the words roll and crest themselves and follow rumbling to the end: he could not have known as he wrote it how great a thing he was writing. It has all the character of verse that increases with time and seems superior to its own author's intention.

la Turmeliere
Cybele, Mother of the Gods
may have been related
to the Goddess Berecynthia,
worshipped in pre Christian Gaul
Telle que dans son Char la Berecynthienne Couronnée de tours, et joyeuse d'avoir Enfanté tant de Dieux, telle se faisoit voir En ses jours plus heureux ceste ville ancienne: Ceste ville qui fust plus que la Phrygienne Foisonnante en enfants et de qui le pouvoir Fust le pouvoir du Monde, et ne se peult revoir Pareille a sa grandeur, grandeur si non la sienne Rome seule pouvoit a Rome ressembler, Rome seule pouvoit Rome faire trembler: Aussi n'avoit permis Pordonnance fatale, Qu'autre pouvoir humain, tant fust audacieux, Se vantast d'égaler celle qui fust égale Sa puissance a la terre, et son courage au cieux.
Such as the Berecynthian Goddess bright
In her swift Charret, with high Turrets crown'd,
Proud that so many Gods she brought to light;
Such was this City in her good Days found:
This City, more than that great Phrygian Mother,
Renown'd for Fruit of famous Progeny,
Whose Greatness, by the Greatness of none other,
But by her self her equal match could see:
Rome only might to Rome compared be,
And only Rome could make great Rome to tremble;
So did the Gods by heavenly Doom decree,
That other earthly Powre should not resemble
Her that did match the whole Earth's Puissaunce,
And did her Courage to the Heavens advaunce.

The Cardinal had determined to make of the young poet the heir of his family's glory. It came to nothing. He accompanied his relative to Rome: but the diplomacy of the mission ill-suited him. Of the Royal ladies at court who befriended him, the marriage of one, the death of another, increased his insecurity.

The sonnet of Exile dates from the same period at Rome, or possibly from his return. It has a different note. It is the most personal and passionate of all his writings, in which so much was inspired by personal regret. On this account it has a special literary interest as the most modern thing of the Renaissance.

France, Mere des arts, des annes, et des loix,
Tu m'as nourry long temps du laict de ta mamelle:
Ores, comme un aigneau qui sa nourisse appelle
Je remplis de ton nom les antres et les bois,
Si tu m'as pour enfant advoué quelquefois
Que ne me respons-tu maintenant, o cruelle?
France, France, respons a ma triste querelle:
Mais nul, sinon Echo, ne respond a ma voix.
Entre les loups cruels j'erre parmy la plaine
Je sens venir l'hyver, de qui la froide haleine
D'une tremblante horreur fait hérisser ma peau.
las! tes autres agneaux n'ont faute de pasture,
Ils ne craignent le loup, le vent, ny la froidure;
Sine suis-je pourtant le pire du troppeau.
France, Mother of arts, of ages and of laws,
You've nourished  me much from the milk of your breast:
You've bequeathed  me your name, as a lamb at the feast.
Your haunts and your woods were mine without pause.
If in the spring  you chose me as your child,
Cruel now to ignore me, my mother - it's heartless!
France, France, where's your response, your caress?
Only my  echo  returns  from the wild.
Savage wolves threaten me to rupture!
I feel the  winter, the cold breath of dying,
A trembling horror, my skin seems crying.
Your other lambs  have no lack of pasture.
They fear not the wolf, the wind, nor the cold;
But  I am the last, the least of your fold.
la Turmeliere
The ruins of La Turmeliere today

It was of a large gray house, moated, a town beside it, yet not far from woods and standing in rough fields, pure Angevin, Tourmeliere, the Manor house of Lire, his home, that Du Bellay wrote this, the most dignified and perhaps the last of his sonnets. The sadness which is the permanent, though sometimes the unrecognized, moderator of his race, which had pierced through in his latter misfortunes, and which had tortured him to the cry in the last sonnet, here reached a final and a most noble form: something much higher than melancholy, and more majestic than regret. He returned to his estate, the mould of his family, a roof the inheritance of which had formed his original burden and had at last crushed him; but he turned to it with affection. If one may use so small a word in connection with a great poet, the gentleman in him remembered an ancestral repose.

Heureux qui, comme Ulysse, a fait un beau voyage,
Ou comme cestuy-là qui conquit la toison,
Et puis est retourné, plein d'usage et raison,
Vivre entre ses parents le reste de son âge !

Quand reverrai-je, hélas, de mon petit village
Fumer la cheminée, et en quelle saison
Reverrai-je le clos de ma pauvre maison,
Qui m'est une province, et beaucoup davantage ?

Plus me plaît le séjour qu'ont bâti mes aïeux,
Que des palais Romains le front audacieux,
Plus que le marbre dur me plaît l'ardoise fine :

Plus mon Loir gaulois, que le Tibre latin,
Plus mon petit Liré, que le mont Palatin,
Et plus que l'air marin la doulceur angevine.

From A.S. Kline's Excellent, Free Poetry Archive:

Happy, the man who finds sweet journey's end,
Like Ulysses, or he of the Golden Fleece,
Returning home, well-travelled, wise, to Greece:  
To live life out, among his own again!   
Alas, when will I see the soft smoke rise
From my own village, in what far season
Shall I gaze on my poor house and garden,
Which are my province, and the greater prize?

My love's deeper for what my fathers' built,
Than Roman palace-fronts of marble, gilt;
My love's deeper for good slate; more rare
My love for my French Loire than Latin Tiber;
My Liré than the Palatine Hill; and more
Than the sea breezes, the sweet Angevin air.

François de Malherbe 1555 - 1628

François de Malherbe

Belloc: His zeal for his tongue was real. As he lay upon his death-bed making his confession after so vigorous a life, he heard his nurse say something to herself which sounded ungrammaiical and, turning round from the priest, he put her right in a manner most violent and sudden. His confessor, startled, said:

'The time is not relevant."

"All times are relevant!" he answered, sinking back.

"I will defend with my last breath the purity and grandeur of the French tongue."

Born in Le-Locheur, near Caen in Normandiy, he was elaborately educated at Caen, at Paris, at Heidelberg and at Basel.

He was Norman. Right of that north whence the vigour, though not the inspiration, of the Renaissance had proceeded, and into which it returned. Caen gave him birth, and still remembers him.

Le Locheur

Normans still edit his works and dedicate these books to the town which also bred Corneille. He came of one of those fixed families whose heads held great estates all round Falaise, and whose cadets branched off into chances abroad: one of the Boughtons, in Kent, is still "Boughton Malherbe."

He was poor. His father, who held one of those magistracies which the smaller nobility bought or inherited, had not known where to turn in the turmoil of those times. In a moment of distress he called himself Huguenot when that party seemed to triumph, and Malherbe in anger against the apostasy went down south, a boy of nineteen, and fought as a soldier - but chiefly duels; for he loved that sport.

So preferring arms to the gown, he entered the household of Henri d'Angouleme, the illegitimate son of Henry II, governor of Provence. In 1581 he was married.

He was exactly, year for year, the contemporary of Shakespeare born earlier and dying later. No better example could be discovered of the contrast between the French and English tempers.

One of his most famous poems was deicated to To M. Duperrier, Gentleman of Aix in Provence, on the Death of His Daughter.

These stanzas are among the best-known as they are, in the opinion of many, the dullest, in French literature. One verse at least (the fourth) is most legitimately famous, though it is hackneyed from the constant repetition of fools. For the rest a certain simplicity, a great precision, may or may not atone for their deliberate coldness.

What is certain is that, poetry or not, they admirably express the spirit of his pen and its prodigious effect. They express the classical end of the French Renaissance with as much weight and hardness as the great blank walls of stone that were beginning to show in the rebuilding of Paris. It is for this quality that I have printed them here, using them as the definite term of that long, glorious, and uncertain phase in European letters.

Ta douleur, Du Périer, sera donc éternelle,
Et les tristes discours
Que te met en l'esprit l'amitié paternelle
L'augmenteront toujours !

Le malheur de ta fille au tombeau descendue
Par un commun trépas,
Est-ce quelque dédale ou ta raison perdue
Ne se retrouve pas ?

Je sais de quels appas son enfance était pleine,
Et n'ai pas entrepris,
Injurieux ami, de soulager ta peine
avecque son mépris.

Mais elle était du monde, ou les plus belles choses
Ont le pire destin,
Et rose elle a vécu ce que vivent les roses,
L'espace d'un matin.

La Mort a des rigueurs a nulle autre pareilles,
On a beau la prier,
La cruelle qu'elle est se bouche les oreilles
Et nous laisse crier.

Le pauvre en sa cabane ou le chaume le couvre
Est sujet a ses lois,
Et la garde qui veille aux barrieres du Louvre
N'en défend point nos rois.

De murmurer contre elle et perdre patience
Il est mal a propos,
Vouloir ce que Dieu veut est la seule science
Qui nous met en repos.

It was translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow as follows:

Henry Wadsworth
WILL then, Duperrier, thy sorrow be eternal?	
    And shall the sad discourse	
Whispered within thy heart, by tenderness paternal,	
    Only augment its force?	
Thy daughter's mournful fate, into the tomb descending	        
    By death's frequented ways,	
Has it become to thee a labyrinth never ending,	
    Where thy lost reason strays?	
I know the charms that made her youth a benediction:	
    Nor should I be content,	        
As a censorious friend, to solace thine affliction	
    By her disparagement.	
But she was of the world, which fairest things exposes	
    To fates the most forlorn;	
A rose, she too hath lived as long as live the roses,	        
    The space of one brief morn.

Death has his rigorous laws, unparalleled, unfeeling;	
    All prayers to him are vain;	
Cruel, he stops his ears, and, deaf to our appealing,	
    He leaves us to complain.	        
The poor man in his hut, with only thatch for cover,	
    Unto these laws must bend;	
The sentinel that guards the barriers of the Louvre	
    Cannot our kings defend.	
To murmur against death, in petulant defiance,	        
    Is never for the best;	
To will what God doth will, that is the only science	
    That gives us any rest.

In these years he worked at the rule of poetry like an artisan, thinking of nothing else, not even of fame. Those who surrounded him took it for granted that he was a master critic -- a sort of judge without appeal, but it was a little provincial circle surrounding a very unimportant house in Provence.

In 1605 he went to Paris and attained the position of court poet and a modest living from court patronage. From this time forward he lived at court, corresponding affectionately with his wife, but seeing her only twice in some twenty years.

Francois Malherbe

He was astonished on coming to Paris to discover how rapidly he became the first name in contemporary letters. Of men who poured out verse the age was satiated; of men who could seize the language at this turn in its fortune, fix it and give it rules, the age had no knowledge till he came: the age fastened upon him, and insisted upon making him a master.

The man who imposed design and authority and unity upon the letters of his country, and who so closed the epoch with which I have been dealing, was singularly suited to his task. Observant, something of a stoic, uninspired; courageous, witty, a soldier; lucid, critical of method only, he corresponded to the movement which, all around him, was ushering in the Bourbons: the mistrust of an ill-ordered squirearchy; the firm founding of a central government.

King Louis XIII

It is certainly true that as his bodily vigour declined, a certain unexpected anger and violence entered into his verse, to the great relief of us moderns: not to that of his contemporaries. Of this feature in him, the two following extracts are suicient proof. They were written, the first at the close of his seventy-second, the other at the entry of his seventy-third year. In each, something close to his heart was at issue, and in each he gives some vent -- far more than had been his wont - to passion. The first is a cry to Louis XIII to have done with the Huguenot.

Louis XIII became one of the first examples of an absolute monarch. Under Louis and Cardinal Richelieu, the crown successfully intervened in the Thirty Years' War against the Habsburgs, managed to keep the French nobility in line, and retracted the political and military privileges granted to the Huguenots by Henry IV (while maintaining their religious freedoms). Louis XIII led successfully the important Siege of La Rochelle. In this he wasassisted by Malherbe's inspiration.

Malherbe's Ode to Louis XIII was written to the camp before La Rochelle. I know of nothing in French literature which more expresses the intense current of national feeling against the nobility and rich townsmen who had attempted to warp the national tradition and who had re-introduced into French life the element which France works perpetually to throw out as un-European, ill-cultured and evil. Indeed, the reading of it is of more value to the comprehension of the national attitude than any set history you may read.

The Siege of La Rochelle
Fais choir en sacrifice au démon de la France
Les fronts trop élevés de ces ames d'enfer;
Et n'épargne contre eux, pour notre délivrance,
Ni le feu ni le fer.

Assez de leurs complots l'infidele malice
A nourri le désordre et la sédition:
Quitte le nom de Juste, ou fais voir ta justice
En leur punition.

Le centiéme décembre a les plaines ternies,
Et le centieme avril les a peintes de fleurs,
Depuis que parmi nous leurs brutales manies
Ne causent que des pleurs.

Dans toutes les fureurs des siecles de tes peres,
Les lnonstres les plus noirs Brent-ils jamais rien
Que l'inhumanité de ces coeurs de viperes
Ne renouvelle au tien?

Par qui sont aujourd'hui tant de villes désertes,
Tant de grands batiments en rnasures changes,
Et de tant de chardons les campagnes couvertes
Que par ces enrages?

Marche, va les détruire, éteins-en la sernenee,
Et suis jusqu'a leur fin ton courroux généreux,
Sans jamais écouter ni pitié ni clémence
Qui te parle pour eux.

Toutes les autres morts n'ont mérite ni marque;
Celle-ci porte seule un éclat radieux,
Qui fait revivre l'homme, et le met de la barque
A la table des dieux.

His old age was saddened by a great misfortune. His son, Marc Antoine, a young man of promise, died in a duel against Paul de Fortia de Piles. Malherbe suspected foul play and used his utmost influence to have de Fortia brought to justice.

This call for vengeance to God was not only an expression of anger called forth by his son's death, it was also, and very largely, the effect of a reaction against the ethics of Geneva: an attack on the idolatry at once of meekness and of fatality which was to him so intolerable a corruption of the Christian religion.

Malherbe's statue at Caen
Que mon fils ait perdu sa dépouille mortelle,
Ce fils qui fut si brave, et que j'aimai si fort,
Je ne l'impute point a l'injure du sort,
Puisque finir a l'homme est chose naturelle.
Mais que de deux marauds la surprise infidele
Ait terminé ses jours d'une tragique mort,
En cela ma douleur n'a point de réconfort,
Et tous mes sentiments sont d'accord avec elle.
O mon Dieu, mon Sauveur, puisque, par la raison,
Le trouble de mon ame étant sans guérison,
Le voeu de la vengeance est un voeu légitime,
Fais que de ton appui je sois fortifié;
Ta justice t'en prie, et les auteurs du crime
Sont fils de ces bourreaux qui t'ont crucifié.

Malherbe died before the suit was decided, it is said in consequence of disease caught at the siege of La Rochelle, where he had petitioned the king. Malherbe died in Paris, on October 16, 1628, at the age of seventy-three, only 15 months after his son.


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